The rule should be easy to understand – wear your safety eyewear! Yet thousands of employees suffer eye injuries requiring medical attention on a daily basis, and 90% of these injuries are preventable. Proper selection, use and care of safety eyewear is key to protecting your eyes at work.
There is a wide variety of safety eyewear available for the hazards found in the workplace. Safety eyewear ranges from simple safety glasses, to goggles, face-shields and integrated personal protection equipment such as a full-face respirator. The proper selection and use should be based on a thorough and complete hazard assessment. Consideration has to be given to fit, compliance approval of the types of safety eyewear and lens, the condition of safety eyewear and patterns of use. What is it about the control strategies we use that don’t seem to work the way they should? Let’s explore the top nine pitfalls of eye injury control and how to make sure eye injuries are prevented.
1. Improper or incomplete hazard recognition
A proper hazard assessment is required that considers, in detail, the nature of the tasks associated with each job, the steps of each task, and all potential hazards. There are a wide variety of hazards, but those with the potential to cause harm to the eye include biological, chemical, physical and safety hazards. Any work that creates these potential exposures creates a risk of eye injury. A hazard assessment should be completed before work starts every day and more regularly if conditions on the jobsite are changing so that the right safety eyewear can be used whenever necessary.
2. Using safety eyewear as the primary control
Effective hazard management involves considering the hierarchy of controls. While safety eyewear is an important part of any eye safety program, hazard elimination is the best way to address any workplace hazard. Automation of a work process may be most effective for eliminating the need for workers to be in harm’s way. If a hazard can’t be eliminated, then an engineering control should be used, such as a fixed safety shield on a cutter or grinder. Procedural controls are also important and can include the development of proper work methods to reduce the hazard, but employee education, training, and job observation work to make sure the methods are followed. Safety eyewear should never be considered as a first control in isolation.
3. Proper fit
Form-fitting safety eyewear will provide superior protection and performance in terms of protection from particulate and liquids splashed. Fortunately, manufacturers of safety eyewear today offer a range of sizes of most safety eyewear, which is a great improvement over the one-size-fits-all approach that was common in the past.
4. Check that selected safety eyewear has the proper safety marks
In Canada, approved safety eyewear must meet the performance standards set out in Canadian Standards Association CAN/CSAZ94.3 Industrial Eye and Face Protectors standard. In Alberta, the frame can be ANSI or CSA approved, and the lenses must meet CSA standards. Safety glasses that meet this standard must pass a series of tests such as an impact resistance test for the frames and lenses. The CSA logo, and other relevant markings, will be visible on the lens and frame or body of the safety eyewear. Beware of products that that are called “safety glasses”, but don’t have the requisite safety marks.
5. Sometimes double protection is necessary
Some jobs or tasks will require more than just safety glasses. Goggles and a face shield may be required to protect the eyes and face while handling a hazardous liquid. For some work involving grinding a combination of safety glasses and face shield will be required to achieve optimal protection. The results of a properly conducted hazard assessment with help you to know when you need that extra protection.
6. The wrong lens for the work environment
Some lens materials are made to perform better in hot or cold environments. Increased ventilation may reduce the impact of sweating and special coatings may reduce fogging. Getting the right lens may help avoid having to accept compromised performance vision that happens when safety eyewear fogs or frosts.
7. Not wearing safety eyewear over your eyes
Safety eyewear needs to be worn as designed to protect workers. Wearing safety eyewear around the neck on a lanyard or propped up on the head will not provide any protection when the need arises. Vigilance is needed to make sure safety eyewear is being worn properly whenever hazards exist.
8. Wearing old and damaged safety eyewear
When safety eyewear gets scratched or damaged it needs to be replaced right away. Examine your safety eyewear every day before use. Employers can also create a safety eyewear inspection program that includes a change-out schedule.
9. Poor emergency response planning
A properly completed hazard assessment should identify if an eyewash station is necessary in the workplace. Proper employee protection includes providing the proper emergency response equipment such as eyewash stations. Although Canadian standards do not specify design standards or recommend placement of eyewash equipment useful guidance is provided in the American standard, ANSI Z358.1-2014.
We need to regularly remind our employees about the importance of safety eyewear. The hazards employees are exposed to can be numerous and they account for a wide majority of eye injuries. As with all safety issues, knowledge and awareness is key. Preventing all eye injuries depends on all employees being aware of the many possibilities of exposures, recognizing them, and taking the proper steps to eliminate the exposure. A wide range of safety eyewear is available that will provide protection for all circumstances of work. The eyes are easily damaged, and we need to protect them every day.
Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with 30 years of experience. He is a regular safety conference speaker in Canada, and he provides program design and instructional support to the University of New Brunswick’s OHS certificate and diploma programs.